I conducted an interview with Visuvanathan Rudrakumaran—the Prime Minister of the Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam (TGTE). Mr. Rudrakumaran spoke in depth about the mission of the TGTE, viability of a separate homeland for the Tamil people, his work as the former legal advisor to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), and alleged human rights violations committed during the ethnic conflict.
I asked Mr.Rudrakumaran, why a separatist solution, in the eyes of the TGTE, still remains the most viable solution for the Tamil people.
Mr.Rudrakumaran responded by stating that “the Tamils constitute a nation” entrenched with objective factors such as a distinct language and distinct culture. Mr. Rudrakumaran, furthermore, asserted that based on the relationship Tamils have to a “definable historic homeland” it is the position of the TGTE that “Tamils do not constitute a minority but a nation.” Therefore, Mr. Rudrakumaran stated, “they [Tamils] are entitled to the right to self-determination.” Mr. Rudrakumaran cited the General Assembly resolution 2625 as evidence that the Tamils’ right to self-determination can be exercised in various forms including, “in the form of a federation or associative structure and also in the form of an establishment of an independent state.”
I asked Mr. Rudrakumaran what the TGTE has accomplished since its creation six years ago. Mr. Rudrakumaran stated that the TGTE has kept the aspirations of the Tamil people alive. On the 40th anniversary of the Vaddukoddai resolution, the TGTE held its commemoration across from the UN head office which Mr. Rudrakumaran added signified how the Tamil issue, because of the role played by the LTTE and the TGTE, “galvanized the international community.”
Adding to the accomplishments of the TGTE, Mr. Rudrakumaran stated that the TGTE has established a Monitoring and Accountability Panel (MAP), consisting of five individuals with international credentials, with a mandate to “monitor the design and mechanism of transitional justice in Sri Lanka” from a “victim’s perspective.” The MAP will ensure, according to Rudrakumaran, “whatever mechanisms proposed by the Sri Lankan government are in compliance with the human rights council resolution” and this mandate, Mr. Rudrakumaran added, is to “prevent any sham or show trials” which maybe orchestrated by the Sri Lankan government.
The 2015 Human Rights Council resolution affirms the importance of participation in a justice mechanism of “Commonwealth and other foreign judges … and authorized prosecutors and investigators.”
Mr. Rudrakumaran took issue with the lack of clarity expressed in the resolution. For example, Mr. Rudrakumaran asserted, “The resolution says transitional justice should be done with the participation of foreign judges, foreign prosecutors, and foreign investigators. The question [then] is what is meant by participation?” The Sri Lankan government, Mr. Rudrakumaran stated, holds the position that “[international judges] can merely come as observers.” This runs contrary, Mr. Rudrakumaran stated, with the commissioner’s report which “clearly and explicitly states” that there should be a hybrid justice mechanism with “international judges, in judicial capacity, not as mere observers.” Mr. Rudrakumaran reiterated, on part of the Sri Lankan government, the lack of consultation with the victims. Rudrakumaran attributed the lack of “ethnic neutrality in Sri Lanka” as a reason why this “matter should be referred to the International Criminal Court (ICC)” stating that the “victims are the Tamils and the government is the Sinhalese. We have to look at it through this ethnic lens. That is the main thing we have to take into account. ”
Mr.Rudrakumaran stated that the position of the TGTE, as he claimed was vividly demonstrated by the “Mullivaikal genocide,” is that the basic security of Tamils can only be guaranteed under an independent state.
I asked Rudrakumaran whether the TNA agrees with the TGTE’s proposal for an UN referendum in Tamil populated areas to determine whether there should be a separate state. Mr. Rudrakumaran stated that the TNA has “not directly commented on it.”
This is true, however, Mr.Sampanthan has repeatedly asserted in Parliament that “there is no longer a demand for a separate state” insisting that the ethnic issue will be solved under a “united and indivisible Sri Lanka.” The TGTE, I believe, is acting irresponsibly by ignoring the political viewpoints held by Tamil politicians, who hold that the ethnic issue must be solved under a united Sri Lanka. These Tamil politicians were elected in vast majorities by Tamils currently living in the North and the East. The TGTE, by ignoring the viewpoints held by Tamil political leaders in Sri Lanka, are ignoring the interests of Tamils living in the North and East.
I questioned Mr.Rudrakumaran as to whether it was realistic to sever the island of Sri Lanka, considering the implications it would have to a fragile federation like India. I also asked Mr.Rudrakumaran whether he really thought India would ever let Sri Lanka be divided.
Mr.Rudrakumaran did not believe India would “vehemently oppose it.” Mr.Rudrakumaran attributed the geopolitical changes occurring “with the Tamils and Tamil Nadu” as a basis on which India will “eventually change its position.” Furthermore, Mr.Rudrakumaran asserted, “In fact, I think having an independent Tamil state will further India’s security.”
I responded to Mr. Rudrakumaran’s statement by posing the problem of any possible domino effect which may occur to a fragile federation such as India if Sri Lanka does separate.
Mr.Rudrakumaran responded to my statement about possible domino effects; “You cannot compare the situation what is happening in Sri Lanka with the situation in Punjab or Assam or other states. India never bombed Punjab; India never killed 100,000 Punjabi people. What happened in Sri Lanka was an act of genocide. You cannot simply equate that with the situation in India. In India, the states want more power sharing… decentralization… that is entirely different from what is happening in Sri Lanka. So I do not think that analogy is correct. Take for example, the creation of Bangladesh. It did not have any domino effects in India. It should have had domino effects in West Bengal. It didn’t. Or in Assam, it didn’t. So I do not think anyone can say if Sri Lanka is divided there can be domino effects in India.”
Similar to how some sectors of the Tamil diaspora call what happened in Sri Lanka, “genocide,” some members of the Punjabi community recognize the 1984 anti-Sikh riots as genocide. The anti-Sikh riots were also recognized as genocide by the California state assembly. The Khalistan movement, a nationalist movement seeking a separatist country in the Punjab region of South Asia, still holds significant sentiment among sectors of the Punjabi community. As it pertains to the creation of Bangladesh, it was largely based on a war between India and Pakistan. In the case of the Tamils, Prime Minister Narendra Modi consistently advocates for solving the ethnic issue under a united Sri Lanka and even urged the Tamils to be patient. In addition, after Prabhakaran’s killing of Rajiv Gandhi, it is highly doubtful that India would ever allow a separate state to emerge in the North and the East of Sri Lanka.
As a legal advisor for the LTTE, Mr.Rudrakumaran took specific steps to challenge the US designation of the LTTE as a terrorist organization. I asked Mr.Rudrakumaran to talk about what specific steps he took to challenge the designation of the LTTE.
Mr. Rudrakumaran stated that the terrorist designation applies to non-state entities “who are engaged in acts of terrorism which are prejudicial to the U.S. national interests.” Mr. Rudrakumaran stated that three arguments were taken: (1) the LTTE is not a non-state entity but a de-facto government of a de-facto state, (2) The LTTE is not involved in terrorist activities but a national liberation struggle, (3) the LTTE’s activities are not prejudicial to the United States’ national interests.
Mr.Rudrakumaran disclosed, with respect to the first two arguments, the Courts stated that they could not rule on it, the matter was a political issue and it would be deferred to the state. “Only on the issue of whether the LTTE was engaged in terrorist activities or whether it was a legitimate measure of a liberation struggle [the Courts] cited there was an attack on a police station. [The U.S. court] considered [that] the attack on a police station cannot be considered as an attack on a legitimate military target. [As a result] of that [the U.S. court] said the LTTE was a so-called terrorist entity” Mr.Rudrakumaran stated.
Reflecting upon the legal ruling of the LTTE as a terrorist entity, Mr.Rudrakumaran asserted, “Even though, legally, we lost the case, I thought politically and morally we won that case. We clearly showed to the world that this “terrorist-designation” is a political game. If you do not like it, you simply designate it as a terrorist organization. In that respect, I think we won that case.”
Furthermore, Mr.Rudrakumaran asserted, “We also challenged the constitutionality of the law. The law also prohibits [individuals] from providing material support. We argued that we wanted to support the LTTE’s legitimate activities—running the schools, orphanages, medical facilities, courts etc. Still, in that respect, we lost because the U.S. court said you cannot separate the money that goes to [legitimate activities] and the money that goes to the liberation struggle.”
However, Mr.Rudrakumaran stated what was achieved in favor of the Tamil nationalist cause through the United States litigation, “But what the court also said was that you have a right to independently support the LTTE or the national liberation struggle. The Court said a person in the U.S. has a right to go and say, ‘Terrorism is the best means to achieve Eelam and achieve our political goal.’ That speech is protected. Through that litigation, we dispelled the fear among the people. And the people said that you can politically support the [Tamil national liberation struggle’s] call for an independent state.”
Mr.Rudrakumaran participated as a legal advisor in the Thailand talks between the LTTE and Sri Lankan government during the Norway brokered peace talks. “We prepared the ISGA—it was very detailed proposal put forth by the LTTE. At that time when the LTTE put forth the proposal, many world leaders said positive things but then Chandrika disrupted the peace talks. She dissolved the peace talks,” Mr.Rudrakumaran stated.
When the LTTE released the ISGA, it received criticism as being too “maximalist” and was subsequently not considered as a basis of negotiation. I asked Mr.Rudrakumaran whether the proposal was indeed too maximalist.
Mr.Rudrakumaran responded by placing the blame on the Sri Lankan government for its unwillingness to negotiate with the LTTE’s proposal. “When Thamilshelvan submitted the ISGA, he did not say take it or leave it. The LTTE never said take it or leave it. [The] LTTE said we consider it as a basis and negotiate. If the government had any concerns, they could have brought it to the negotiating table, we could have negotiated. But that didn’t happen. Who was at fault? It was the Sri Lankan government. And Ranil also has another proposal, we put forth both proposals and we sit down and talk. But that didn’t happen. I have written an article also [about] the flexibility expedited by the LTTE during the peace talks. The LTTE first went to the peace talks saying that we want an interim administration. Then Ranil came to the table and said, ‘sorry I don’t have power. Chandrika has all the power. I cannot do anything.’ LTTE exercised a lot of flexibility.”
Mr.Rudrakumaran, in this regard, is correct in his criticisms of the Sri Lankan government. Historically, the UNP and SLFP are regarded for their intense level of disagreement and lack of consensus. Peace processes must have bipartisan support in order to be successful. In Northern Ireland, the peace process would not have been successful if there was not some form of agreement within the parties of Northern Ireland. And also, the peace process would not have been successful if there had not been consensus in Britain between the Conservative and Labor party to support the policy of Northern Ireland. The failure to get that level of consensus in Sri Lanka was fundamental to the breakdown of the peace process.
In the Thimpu talks, the Tamil delegation, consisting of representatives from the EPRLF, EROS, LTTE, PLOTE, TELO, and the TULF outlined the Thimpu principles as a meaningful solution to the Tamil national question. Such a proposition was put forth together, in unison, by all the Tamil factions. It then begs the question whether Prabhakaran weakened the ability for Tamils to achieve self-determination when he later killed off political leaders such as Appapillai Amirthalingan and Neelan Tiruchelvan when Prabhakran could have easily negotiated with them.
Mr.Rudrakumaran questioned whether the LTTE was responsible for the killings of the political leaders and claimed that the “killings of Amirthalingam or Neelan Tiruchelvam, in my view, have nothing to do with the Thimpu principles. And it has not weakened the Thimpu principles in any way.” Mr. Rudrakumaran referred to the Thailand talks as a manifestation of the Thimpu principles because the “LTTE participated in the talks with power and they were able to determine the course of events.” Mr. Rudrakumaran concluded that the “Tamils’ call for independence is a historical cause so any isolated incident did not have and will not have any impact on that process.”
It should be disclosed that Mr.Rudrakumaran also had a personal history with Neelan Tiruchelvam. In the spring of 1988, it was Harvard lecturer Neelan Tiruchelvam who mentored Mr.Rudrakumaran and helped enroll Mr.Rudrakumaran in the PhD program at Harvard Law School. Mr. Rudrakumaran did not complete his PhD. Mr.Rudrakumaran, despite Neelan’s kind generosity, decided to distance himself from Neelan and would not even admit or apologize for the manner in which Neelan was killed.
Neelan Tiruchelvam, a Harvard renowned constitutional lawyer and key advisor to Chandrika, believed in engaging in peaceful dialogue with the LTTE. Neelan, as a strong advocate of power sharing, would have contributed to the LTTE’s power sharing proposal—the ISGA. Neelan was far more intellectually superior and skilled than the members of the diaspora the LTTE recruited to draft the proposal. Neelan would have refined the proposal to make it appear more feasible and less maximalist. In addition, since Neelan was a member of Chandrika’s President’s counsel, Neelan would have strongly insisted to Chandrika that she take the proposal into consideration. However, the LTTE by killing political intellectuals who voiced dissent, instead of negotiating with them, ultimately helped seal their own fate for what would transpire in 2009.
In 2005, the LTTE boycotted the elections which ultimately led to the election of Mahinda Rajapaksa. I asked Mr.Rudrakumaran whether Prabhakaran’s decision was a mistake and whether he then accepts that the LTTE are also to blame for the fate of the Tamil people in the final stages of the war.
Mr.Rudrakumaran asserted that he could not say the boycott was a mistake. Rudrakumaran added that, “boycotting the elections is also a form of democracy. You just don’t go to participate because the elections are being held by the Sri Lankan government. If you do not accept the sovereignty of the government then you can boycott. That is another form of democracy.”
The subjugation of the Tamil people, Mr.Rudrakumaran declared, happened not only under Rajapaksa but several other Presidents from Chandrika, JR.Jayawardene, and Premadasa. Mahinda, according to Rudrakumaran, “was the latest manifestation of a Sinhala operation. We cannot simply narrow it and say; if not for Mahinda, everything would have been great. That is not the case. Even under Chandrika, school children were killed.”
Under Chandrika’s government, I replied, forty thousand Tamils did not die in a narrow strip of land.
Mr.Rudrakumaran asserted that it is uncertain what circumstances may have unfolded under a Chandrika government during the final stages of the war. Mr.Rudrakumaran insisted that we must take into account a lot of “unintentional factors” which occurred during the final stages of the war.
As Prime Minister, Rajapaksa seemed to be open to a reaching a political solution to end the war, but Rajapaksa saw that he could gain more politically by taking a Sinhala nationalist and aggressive militaristic standpoint. It was the boycott that secured the margin of votes in order for Rajapaksa to win the election over Wickremesinghe. Allegations regarding a secret deal between Mahinda and the LTTE leadership to boycott the election have long surfaced in the Sri Lanka media. There was allegedly money involved. A certain sum of money was requested and paid by Rajapaksa to the LTTE proxies in return that they boycott the election. Ranil Wickremesinghe even referred to it in Parliament. If it is in fact the case that Mahinda, a man who destroyed the LTTE, came into power on the backs of a deal with the LTTE, then there is serious reflection that needs to be done among LTTE supporters as to whether the LTTE are also to blame for the fate of Tamil people in the final stages of the war. If Ranil was voted into power, it could have been a very different trajectory.
The Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam, if they are truly fighting for the justice of all Sri Lankan Tamils, have a duty to speak out against every instance where Tamils were victims of injustice. I explicitly asked Mr.Rudrakumaran, as Prime Minster of the TGTE, whether he would be willing to apologize for crimes committed by the LTTE such as its ethnic cleansing of Muslims, killing of political dissidents like Neelan Tiruchelvam and Rajini Thiranagama, forced recruitment of children, killing Tamil leaders in rival factions, among other crimes where Tamils were victims of injustice.
Mr.Rudrakumaran disputed my statement of categorizing what happened to the Muslims as ethnic cleansing. He argued, “Ethnic cleansing did not happen in Sri Lanka. Normally, ethnic cleansing happens when there is a demonization of a community and then destruction follows that demonization. But look at the Tamil-Muslim relationship. The Tamils never demonized the Muslims. So you cannot say what happened in Sri Lanka was ethnic cleansing. That’s the wrong terminology.”
The United Nations Commission of Experts, in a January 1993 report to the Security Council defined “ethnic cleansing” as “rendering an area ethnically homogenous by using force or intimidation to remove persons of given groups from that area.”
Atrocities such as the Kattankudy Mosque Massacre where over 140 Muslims were massacred, in addition, the forced expulsion of Muslims from the North where an estimated 72,000 were evicted from their homes provide clear evidence that there are grounds to categorize the atrocities as “ethnic cleansing.”
It is indeed puzzling why Mr.Rudrakumaran refuses to apologize for even a single atrocity committed by the LTTE, especially since even Anton Balasingham notably apologized for the LTTE’s atrocities against the Muslims. In addition, Anton Balasingham implied regret over the killing of Neelan Tiruchelvam and expressed guilt over the LTTE’s missed opportunity to negotiate the original 1995 GL-Neelan package.
As it pertains to other acts committed by the LTTE against the Tamil people, Mr.Rudrakumaran refused to apologize citing that “it has not been proven.”
Mr. Rudrakumaran reiterated, “What we have to do now, especially the second generation, is to rally around what happened in Mullivaikkal is genocide. And we need justice.”
If the TGTE genuinely wants justice for all Tamils living the North and East they must accept that, yes, the Sri Lankan government committed atrocities against Tamils but so did the LTTE. Until then, the TGTE will continued to be viewed, not as a group that speaks out about injustice committed against all Tamils, but only as a group that speaks out against certain injustices committed against Tamils insofar as it is convenient to the LTTE ideology. By doing so, the TGTE has effectively decided that human rights violations committed by the LTTE against Tamils, such as the LTTE’s use of civilians as human shields during the final stages of the war, is not worthy of acknowledgement and those Tamils do not have a sufficient grievance.
If you would like to watch the full version of the interview I conducted with Rudrakumaran; you may do so by clicking here.